John Manley: DUP support for Tories was always conditional and the party knows when to play the populist card
IT was wishful thinking from nationalists and Labour supporters alike to assume that the Tories' confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP had suddenly hit the buffers.
Arlene Foster's MPs supporting not one but two Labour motions ostensibly suggested the £1 billion deal was under threat. However, a closer reading of the situation shows it was nothing of the sort.
Good fortune has helped the DUP manoeuvre into its current position where it wields unprecedented power at Westminster, but it should also be acknowledged that the party has plenty of nous and knows how to play the political game.
DUP support for Theresa May's government was always conditional and only relates to certain parliamentary votes.
June's agreement states that support for the Tory government will be on all motions of confidence, the queen’s speech, the budget, finance bills, money bills, as well as "supply and appropriation legislation and estimates".
The DUP also pledges to support Mrs May on Brexit and "legislation pertaining to national security", while support on other matters would be "agreed on a case by case basis".
Labour's previous effort to remove the public sector pay cap was voted down with the help of the DUP but that was because it was an amendment to the queen's speech.
Yesterday's vote, like that on tuition fees, was standalone and therefore meant no broken promises to either Mrs May or on the DUP's manifesto pledges.
It also ensured Mrs Foster's party did not alienate NHS workers in Britain and the north, or shoot itself in the foot with a PR disaster.
The DUP is content to be cast as right-leaning on many social issues but it is also knows when to play the populist card, enabling it to maintain significant support among the unionist working class.
Fractures may well appear in the deal at some stage but for now it looks sound.
For an illustration of the prevailing DUP influence on Downing Street, look at the speed with which the prime minister phoned US president Donald Trump to highlight the potential for job losses in Belfast from Boeing's action against Bombardier.
It almost matched the haste with which the Northern Ireland Office last week rebuked Simon Coveney's call for Dublin input in the event of direct rule.